A: Every summer, hundreds of dogs find their way to the family veterinarian after spending just a few hours in the hot sun. It’s important to remember dogs don’t sweat like we do. Cooling themselves by panting, dogs use the moisture evaporating off their tongue as a means to lower their body’s temperature. Anything overwhelming this natural cooling system leads to heat stroke.
Normally, a dog’s temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees. In cases of heat stroke, temperatures over 106 degrees are considered to be an emergency situation – temperatures over 110 degrees can be fatal in a matter of minutes. This level of hyperthermia (higher than normal body temperature) can affect every major body system and it is imperative you get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you safely can.
Dogs who succumb to heat stroke often show the following symptoms:
• Vigorous panting
• Inability to stand, or weakness while standing
• Thick, ropy saliva, literally foaming at the mouth
• Bright red mucous membranes, although some dogs may show pale or even muddy gums.
Heat stroke can affect any dog, although dogs with short faces, such as Boston, Pugs, and Bulldogs may be at higher risk due their inability to effectively pant and cool themselves. Many people believe that their pet will be fine outdoors. However, inadequate shade and/or water can affect even the most seasoned outdoor dog. Interestingly, heat stroke in cats is very rare. Most animal experts believe that cats are extremely good at finding the coolest spots to lay and also avoid the excessive, excitatory exertions that many dogs seem to thrive on.
If you find your dog vigorously panting on a warm summer day, immediately move the pet out of the environment and into a cooler place. Getting the pet into a shady area with a fan running on him can be very helpful. Using cool, not cold, tap water or rubbing alcohol on the extremities and trunk can also help to effectively lower the body temperature. Do not use ice or extremely cold water. Although it seems logical, extreme cold will cause surface blood vessels to contract, forming an insulating area that traps heat in the body, delaying the cooling of the vital organs.
Attempting to force your pet to drink is also not advisable. If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, immediately load your pet carefully into a car and go to the veterinarian.